As we head towards another year, we look back to reflect on the milestones and achievements that are shaping Oorja’s journey towards a sustainable, more equitable future. Join us in celebrating a year of growth, innovation, and creating impact among India’s smallholder farmers.
GROWTH IN 2023
Oorja's innovative Pay-Per-Use business model has been successful in providing energy access to last-mile communities by eliminating the traditional barrier of upfront costs. This disruptive model has enabled us to reach the most economically challenged farmers and serve them with critical farming services like irrigation. Our solar project deployments and users have increased by 56% and 62%, respectively in the last one year. Oorja now has 119 operational solar assets spread across 6 districts of northern India. Our projects have cumulatively abated 1,801 tonnes of CO2e emissions. Oorja’s Pay-Per-Use irrigation, milling and cooling services are now reaching 27,000+ beneficiaries. 93% of our customers reported having higher incomes after using our services, and their lives have improved through convenience and effort reduction, timely irrigation and higher crop yield.
We continued to provide Climate-smart Farm Advisory services to our irrigation customers free of charge. Led by expert agronomists and farmer advisors to promote sustainable, profitable, and resource-efficient agricultural practices, smallholder farmers received training in the form of workshops and on-farm demonstrations. We saw increased adoption of scientific farming techniques like the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which resulted in better yields as compared to the traditional method of rice cultivation leading to income increase and reduction of input costs for the adopters. We also introduced the System of Wheat Intensification (SWI) in our areas of operation. The farmer advisory team is also piloting regular informal group meetings with its customers near our project sites to address on-ground challenges, training, and promotion of sustainable agriculture methods.
We also came out with our first annual impact assessment report that evaluated the impact of our services in the lives of these farmers.
- 47% of our irrigation customers grew a Zayed crop in the summer season from April to June 2022. Our users reported a 27% increase in their incomes from agriculture.
- 96% of our customers have completely trainsitioned to using our solar-powered irrigation services. They were previously using diesel pumps for irrigation.
- 97% cutomers reported their satisfaction from our services in terms of cost, ease of usage, and reliability.
We also conducted an impact assessment of trainings provided to farmers to push them to grow crops in summer 2023. Continuous engagement and trainings of 123 farmers motivated them to grow crops in the Zayed season. They successfully grew a variety of crops including maize, mint, pulses etc. and were able to earn an additional income of INR 15,25,010 through the sale of produce.
In September 2023, we piloted the Irrigation Scheduling App jointly developed by researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Southampton. With an aim to digitalise solar irrigation services, the mobile app was designed to perform several key functions, including weather and water output forecasting and optimal scheduling of the farmers’ water requests. After a yearlong collaboration on development, the mobile app kicked off with successful pilot testing involving Oorja’s field team, solar pump operators, and irrigation service users across five solar pumps. The results, gathered after three weeks of collecting data and surveying users, highlighted a promising path forward.
Our interventions have resulted in improving farmers’ livelihoods. Users reported up to 30% increase in crop yields and up to 26% more income compared to those relying on diesel. Our customers saved over INR 33 lakh in fuel expenses, demonstrating a significant positive impact on farmers' income and quality of life.
In addition, we welcomed 13 new members to our team and created 17 new green jobs for people from last-mile rural communities this year. We are a big team of 72 people now.
Oorja raised equity investment from Acumen Fund, elea, Artha Impact (Rianta Capital), Echoing Green and 1to4 Foundation as part of its pre-Series A round. The capital will be used for deploying agri-energy infrastructure and to expand operations and the team. We are in advanced stages of launching a B2B2C vertical to deliver solar irrigation services to agribusinesses, corporate and SMEs who engage with smallholder farmers. This will enable Oorja to work at scale, enter new geographies, and increase its impact, accelerating the transition from polluting diesel-centred forms of irrigation, and milling with clean, affordable and reliable clean energy based appliances.
Oorja has been providing affordable solar powered irrigation services to smallholder farmers through its unique Pay-Per-Use model for over five years now. Oorja has installed integrated solar mills with the irrigation pumps to increase the utilisation of the energy generated. The mills usually run when pumps are not in use by diverting the solar power generated by the pump PV panels. In 2023, Oorja partnered with International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Canada to understand the impact of incorporating secondary use of the unutilised energy potential of solar irrigation pumps by setting up solar mills. The study aims to improve the inclusivity of the social benefits with a focus on gender and economic benefits that marginalised communities can get by using Pay-Per-Use solar milling services and avoiding diesel-run mills.
We also partnered with International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and Sustain Plus Energy Foundation for a collaborative action research project - SE4RL (Solar Energy for Rural Livelihoods). This benchmark study is aimed at understanding the drivers of performance and impact of off-grid solar irrigation pumps on rural livelihoods in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
EVENTS & CONFERENCES
In December 2023, CEO Amit Saraogi and CTO Dr. Clementine Chambon attended the COP28 UAE, the world’s leading climate forum. They were part of 2 panels to discuss the transformative impact of off-grid solar in agriculture for climate-vulnerable communities, emphasising its role as the fastest and cheapest means to serve the energy needs of smallholders. They highlighted the key barriers to adoption of PURE technologies, i.e. high upfront cost, lack of consumer finance and low awareness, and emphasised on the need for innovative business models, giving the example of Oorja’s Pay-Per-Use model that eliminates all upfront cost barriers.
The conference opened with a declaration on sustainable agriculture signed by more than 130 countries. It featured a whole day dedicated to agriculture and food and saw a food systems roadmap laid out by the UN’s FAO. The COP recognised renewable energy and energy efficiency as crucial solutions to the climate crisis. The decision calls on countries to triple global renewable capacity and double the rate of energy efficiency by 2030, and has been endorsed by 130 countries. Global energy transition investment hit a record $1.3 trillion, with $0.5 trillion in renewable energy. Despite progress, developed countries are still short on their commitment to mobilise $100 billion/year in climate finance and the deadline is now extended to 2025.
Sejal Agarwal, Oorja's Impact Manager, represented Oorja at The International Vienna Energy and Climate Forum (IVECF) 2023 in Vienna in November. She participated as a panellist in a discussion on 'Solar irrigation for Smallholder Farmers – is it increasing resilience and reducing poverty?' The discussion emphasised on making solar powered irrigation services accessible and affordable for smallholder farmers. Sejal shared Oorja's innovative 'Pay-Per-Use model' of servitising decentralised solar-powered irrigation to make it affordable and easily accessible for the community.
Ankur Singh, Oorja’s Senior Manager, spoke at the OFF-GRID Expo + Conference 2023 on the topic "Women Entrepreneurs Creating Last-mile Access to Off-grid Solar Energy in India's Farm Sector" in December 2023. The event provided a platform to explore the invaluable contributions women make as entrepreneurs in the off-grid industry. The panellists brought diverse perspectives, thought-provoking presentations and invigorating discussions focused on gender equality. They also discussed how the rapid growth of electrification is paving the way for new economic opportunities for women around the globe. Ankur shared insights on the status-quo of women entrepreneurs in India’s farm sector with 3 prominent impact stories from Devidayal Solar Solutions, S4S Technologies and Oorja.
Our Research Associate Lipsa Priyadarshini represented Oorja at the WE4F Annual Conveying 2023 in Bangkok where 150 innovators from across 35 countries in Asia and Africa gathered to exchange ideas and learn from each other’s experiences. The 3-day long event had several interesting sessions ranging from failures in environmental sustainability to gender mainstreaming to business expansion in new markets.
CEO Amit Saraogi and CTO Dr. Clementine Chambon represented Oorja at elea’s Philanthropic Investors’ circle dinner at Zurich in September 2023. With over a hundred guests, this was an incredible platform to exchange ideas. There were strategic discussions and we were introduced to multiple potential partners to help us continue Oorja’s growth strategy.
In an impact study conducted by 60_Decibels, 93% of Oorja's irrigation customers reported that their incomes have increased after they have availed Oonnati irrigation service. The study was conducted with our irrigation service users from 7 districts of Uttar Pradesh, India. 89% of customers are using solar irrigation for the first time, and 94% reported that their quality of life has improved. 34% have experienced increased crop yields, and 79% of these customers have expanded their land under cultivation. These impact denominators indicate that Oorja's services are creating a steady change in the social and economic status of smallholder farmers. They have year-round access to irrigation, and are able to expand to a third cropping season, increase crop yields and incomes while practising sustainable methods of agriculture.
In another study by 60_Decibels and supported by Upaya Social Ventures, 90% of Oorja's solar pump operators reported a boost in their confidence, while 60% of them said that they have learnt relevant skills. Over half of them are earning an income for the first time, and 90% reported that they are able to save a little part of their income.
In July 2023, AVPN Asia published two articles featuring Oorja’s initiatives. The first article, titled - ‘Affordable Solar Energy Sources for Low-Income Farmers’ documented the problems that smallholders farmers face and how Oorja’s inclusive and customer-centred Pay-Per-Use business model is making clean energy accessible to low-income farmers, besides helping them increase crop yields, transition to high-value crops, and expand to new cropping seasons. Another article ‘Resilient Food System Through Climate-Smart Agriculture’ focused on Oorja’s Climate-Smart Farmer Advisory that provides training to smallholder farmers on modern and sustainable agronomic practices to help boost yields, engage in new growing seasons, diversify their cropping patterns beyond staple crops and move towards high-value crops.
Agricultural Extension in South Asia (AESA) published a Good Practice Note highlighting the best practices that make Oorja a successful model in creating energy access among India’s smallholder farmers. The article describes each aspect of Oorja’s operational model and the steps involved in project deployment, service delivery and maintenance.
AWARDS & RECOGNITION
Oorja has received several awards and accolades for its work on energy access, sustainable agriculture, and climate action. In March 2023, Oorja won the Startup Transition Award in the Quality Energy Access and SDG-7 category and the Mercom India Award for the Best Off-grid Project. We were shortlisted for the Renewable Transition Challenge, Ashden Award for Powering Agriculture and were also nominated for the Earthshot Prize. We were selected for the Google Startups for Sustainable Development Program and the DCM Shriram AgWater Challenge. Oorja was awarded the Echoing Green Transformational Follow-on Funding in 2023. Besides, Dr. Clementine Chambon was selected as a changemaker by The Global Good Fund.